SEATTLE -- Emiliano Garcia, 16, pleaded not guilty Thursday to second-degree murder in the death of Kent officer Diego Moreno, who was killed July 22 during a police chase.
His bail was set at $1 million.
King County prosecutors made it clear that Moreno would be alive if it wasn't for the actions of Garcia.
“He failed to stop; he is the cause of officer Moreno's death,” Senior Deputy Prosecutor Jessica Berliner said.
Garcia and two other juveniles are accused of firing dozens of shots in a parking lot in Kent before fleeing from police. Prosecutors say Garcia was behind the wheel of a red pickup truck when Moreno deployed spike strips to stop the truck. Moreno was successful in stopping Garcia but seconds later Moreno was struck and killed by another Kent police officer who was in pursuit.
“We have another officer who causes the death of officer Moreno,” defense attorney Brad Brashis said.
The defense told King County Judge John Chun that the teenager should not be charged with murder.
The defense gave an example to the judge, saying that if a police officer were to rush to a felony call but then died in a car accident on the way to the scene, that the suspect in the case would not be charged with felony murder.
A source in King County’s legal system told Q13 News that it is highly unusual for a juvenile to be charged with a murder in a case like this.
But in court, the prosecution argued that state law upholds the charge.
If someone commits a felony or is in the process of running from a felony and it causes the death of someone else, they are responsible, the prosecution said. For example, if someone sets a fire and then a firefighter dies, it would be murder -- not just arson.
Kent Police could not comment on the court proceedings on Thursday, saying an independent investigation is still underway in the case. But Police Chief Rafael Padilla was decisive in his comments a day after Moreno's death.
“I want to make this crystal clear -- this tragedy is the result of violent criminal action by suspects involved period,” Padilla said.
Chun upheld the second-degree murder charge against Garcia.
"Two judges at this court already found probable cause. I see no reason to see a different conclusion," Chun said.
Q13 News followed up with the defense team after the court hearing.
They did not have a comment regarding how Garcia felt about Moreno’s death, but Brashis underscored the tragedy of the whole situation.
“We understand that this is a tragic time for officer Moreno's family and everyone that’s involved and knew him, including us,” Brashis said.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg was not available to speak on camera on Thursday but he did tell KUOW that in cases where juveniles are convicted of murder as an adult, that the judge has more leeway to be more lenient when it comes to sentencing.